With origins in Middle Eastern cuisine, kebabs are becoming more common in the United States as curious consumers want to explore international foods. With the majority of consumers cooking and eating at home during COVID-19, meat and poultry processors are presented with an opportunity to provide this popular street food in a heat-and-eat format. 

The most familiar form is the classic shish kebab, which consists of small cubes of meat cooked on a skewer, with or without vegetables. There’s also the doner kebab, which is stacked meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. It gets shaved off and used in dishes such as gyros and shawarma.

“It’s hard to make shish kebabs at home,” said Jerry McDonald, vice president culinary, MiDAS Foods International, Oak Park, Mich. “It’s very labor intensive and also challenging to cook and develop desirable grill or smoke flavor without burning some pieces or having product fall off the skewer.”

Doner kebab is not even possible for the home cook without a vertical rotisserie. It’s much easier to purchase the fully cooked shaved meat slices and fry them up in pan to get edges browned and crispy.

“There’s so much room for flavor innovation in the kebab space,” said Aspen Burkhardt, account manager and culinary council member, LifeSpice Ingredients, Chicago. “Processors can marinade the meat prior to cooking or add a topical seasoning before packaging. Another idea is to include seasoning packets in the fully cooked kebab package, inviting consumers to apply the amount they desire prior to eating.

“You can include a number of packets, seasoning blends from around the globe,” Burkhardt said. “Asian, Mediterranean, Indian, Middle Eastern, there’s so many flavor profiles to explore for use on kebobs.”

Ryan Kukuruzovic, corporate chef, Wixon Inc., St. Francis, Wis., shared some ideas. Try black garlic on chicken shawarma or roasted garlic with tamarind on pork skewers.

“Bring the Brazilian steakhouse to the home kitchen with churrasco steak skewers,” he said.

The meat would be marinated in a mixture of crushed garlic, onion, achiote paste, cumin and chili flakes in orange and lime juices. Apply some particulates prior to packaging for visual appeal.

“Try Southwest meets Southeast,” Kukuruzovic said. “Combine barbecue with lemongrass ginger on sirloin tips.”

A marinade for Greek chicken kebabs may consist of olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, basil, thyme, garlic and shallot. For Asian flair, try marinating beef in a mixture of sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic and green onion.